For a league which prides itself on record keeping, the NFL was surprisingly quiet as two records were set by one man at the weekend. Amidst the fun and games of the Buccaneers' comeback win over the Minnesota Vikings, Ronde Barber quietly not only extended his record as the NFL's longest-standing active player to 184 games, he also broke the record for most consecutive games by a cornerback.
Two things about that are remarkable. The first is that Barber is 36, an age at which most cornerbacks have long since been pensioned off. Indeed. his twin brother Tiki not only retired in 2006 but failed to attract any interest from teams when he tried to make a comeback during the pre-season.
The second remarkable thing is that Barber's record may never be beaten. When Peyton Manning's neck injury brought his consecutive starts streak to an end at 208, he was the only active player with more starts than Barber. That's a whole two seasons more than Ronde. Amid active players only Ryan Longwell, the Vikings kicker, has played more actual games, with 224.
The fact is, though, that the chances of any player reaching even 180 games nowadays—the equivalent of more than 11 seasons—are remote. The decision to increase the regular season to 16 games means that while a player accumulates games more swiftly, they do so in a more intense fashion. This increases the chance of injury in a sport which is already featuring bigger players playing harder and faster than they ever did before. A point which was, of course, made repeatedly by the players during the Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations during the summer.
In the past 12 months we have seen the streaks of both Manning and Brett Favre ended by on-field injuries, but it is not only that kind of injury that can ruin a streak. Longwell has been lucky to avoid the sort of knee and ankle injuries that afflict many a kicker, not to mention surviving the fickle nature of coaches who will cut a kicker the moment they miss a thirty-yarder.
I suspect that the days of the long NFL streak are over, and that Barber might be the last of his kind. It is still a remarkable achievement, though.
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